If you’re well-versed in the prolific oeuvres of Dave Graney and Clare Moore, you’d undoubtedly be aware that they don’t do things by half measures. Like the best performers, they approach everything with the intention of leaving the proverbial pint of blood on the stage, to overcome the perils of life to create their art, and somehow – above it all – to find a way to make some of the coolest music you’ll find anywhere.
Released earlier this month, Everything Was Funny, was yet another record that arrived despite the factors working against its creators. The fifth official record credited to Graney and Moore (despite the countless others they’ve worked on together), Everything Was Funny was always on the cards for this year, but not necessarily quite like this.
Entering 2021 with plans for two records – a rock record with The mistLY and a more “unbuttoned and freaky” album such as this one – lockdowns soon made it impossible for bands to rehearse together, let alone record. As a result, Graney and Moore found themselves entering the studio together, experimenting with new guitar tunings and time signatures to craft a record that is an inventive as it is accomplished.
With Graney taking control of vocals, guitars, and autoharp, while Moore tends to the drums, bass xylophone, percussion, keys, and backing vocals, their experimentation gives way to one of the finest hours of music you’ll likely find this year. Equally refreshing and exploratory, yet still maintaining the classic Graney and Moore sound that has kept fans transfixed for decades, it feels like a detour into their minds, allowing us to see the musical cogs that are forever turning.
Opening with title track, “Everything Was Funny”, listeners are treated to the masterful combination of the pair’s musical abilities, while Graney’s iconic songwriting finds itself unfolding across the record’s 13 tracks. As noted in an accompanying press release for the record, lyrical themes traverse all sort of ground, be it teenage biker gangs in “I Knew the Wild Angels”, or American cultural firefights in “Wilco Got No Wilco”, while instrumental tracks such as “Diaghelev and Nijinsky” and “Beckett and Tubbs” provide blissful escapism for the listener.
But of course, such is the beauty of this record that almost every song feels as though it could be part of an entirely different record. The almost trip-hop influenced “I Was No Captain” feels completely at odds with album closer “A Little Water on My Bird”, but this is exactly what makes the album work. It captures two artists at their creative best, eager to flex their musical muscles and crafting a record that has an almost mixtape-like quality as a result.
Undoubtedly, one of the most refreshing aspects of a record made in times such as these likely comes from the noted absence of any songs influenced by COVID or lockdowns in general. As Graney himself explained alongside the record’s release, such songwriting in the current environment feels at odds with the standard creative process. “I don’t need a pandemical lockdown to happen to write some songs,” he explains. “Same way I never read any ‘war poets. If they need a war to write something it’s not really worth it!”
Of course, there were some bright spots amongst the trials of 2021, with Graney and Moore able to escape their Ponderosa studio to play a handful of live shows. One trip saw them find their way to South Australia, where a trip to Dismal Swamp to visit Graney’s second cousin Kristyn Jones resulted in the shot that adorns the album itself.
Above it all though, Everything Was Funny shines as a stellar example of what happens when two of the country’s finest and most respected artists are able to make the best of a bad year. Would we have received the same sort of record had lockdowns not hallmarked 2021? It’s unlikely, but what we received instead is a testament to the tenacity of Graney and Moore, and as listeners, we’re better for it.
Dave Graney and Clare Moore’s Everything Was Funny is out now via Cockaigne Records.